Mysore, or Mysuru as it’s also known, is in the state of Karnataka. If you haven’t visited Mysore before, we think it’s worth including on your India travel itinerary. The city is rich in heritage with many royal palaces, interesting colonial buildings, a choice of temples, churches and mosques to satiate any religious creed and of course some great food.
On balance I would say we preferred Mysore it to our visit to Kochi. It’s a great stopping point to break up those all too long Indian journeys with easy access from Bangalore and North Kerala.
Mysore’s most iconic image, especially when the lights are switched on in the evening, is Mysore Palace , which we wrote about in our last India travel post. Mysore has many titles associated with it, my favourite being The Green City, which is a fairly apt title as it seems to be one of the cleanest cities in India on our journey so far. It ain’t no Singapore, but by Indian standards it sparkles.
Mysore’s Main Tourist Attractions
Mysore Palace – A tour inside the palace costs a foreigner 200 Rupees each, well worth it to see this decadent pastiche of opulence and splendour. Unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside, we saw the attentive guards seizing cameras from those who decided the rules were not for them. Not sure what the price is to get them back! Although the palace is just over a century old the interior is made up of an eclectic mix of styles and designs from different periods and countries to produce an elaborate and ostentatious interior.
Whilst it won’t be popular with interior design purists, who I’d imagine would find it a little vulgar and not too worthy architecturally speaking, we loved it! From the silver doors, ceramic and stained glass, impressively decorated rooms and the peacock design theme running through the place – it’s all about grand statements of wealth and (self) importance.
Jaganmohan Palace Art Gallery – A real eclectic mix of oil paintings, sculpture, clocks, furniture, glass, ceramics and coins. The visitor interpretation is very poor, no dates, details etc. however, the building and its contents are well worth a visit. The highlights for us were the Glow of Hope – painting and some cubist landscape pictures of the Himalayas from 1923. Exhibits include glass and mirrors as well as a stunning oil of a mother breast feeding her young child. As you’d expect, there are many references to the Raj and India’s imperial past.
Chamundi Hill – The views of the city on a clear day are impressive as is the journey up the steep and narrow roads. You can take the local bus 201 which run regularly if your not doing this as part of a tour. At the summit you will find the grand Chamundeshwari Hindu temple, surrounded by stalls of food and souvenirs that is very popular with Indian coach parties on group tours.
Just around the corner, a short drive, is the Nandi or Lord Shiva’s Bull. This massive Nandi is one of the biggest in India, hewn out of a single piece of black rock.
Temples and other sightseeing
There is a very impressive stone temple at Srirangapatna (the island town just outside Mysore) which is well worth the visit after you have had a brief look at the old fort walls and remains in this place. Although beware of the boys ‘looking after’ your shoes on the entrance to the temple as they will try and place a 500% mark up on the shoe caring service for pale skinned foreigners.
Datta Peethan Ashram just on the edge of the city is a modern well used working Hindu temple. For the more active and those with time you can engage in yoga or try an audience with the guru.
As the sun sets you should head for the Brindavan Garden and Krishnaraja Dam for the fountain light spectacular (unless its a Sunday of course then you will be at the Palace). The walk up to the fountain show area was quite beautiful but left us expecting more from the water, light and music show. The show was simply dwarfed by the crowd of spectators watching it. It seems to be a must do on any Indians visiting the Mysore area the place was packed to the rafters.
Mysore Shopping and Markets
There is an excellent, large and lively market in the city centre, some indoor other parts sprawling onto the streets and along bustling narrow alleys. If you can’t get it here you can’t get it anywhere. Colourful and friendly you can spend hours walking around here, or as long as you can last in the sun.
Mysore specialises in the production of sandalwood and silk. Therefore, there are some government shops which don’t charge taxes for these products. You also know what quality you’re getting, on the whole. I purchased some beautiful sandalwood incense sticks and some sandalwood aftershave. They also had some beautiful genuine bracelets and beads, we have seen lots of fakes all around Asia on our travels, but these are the real deal.
Where to drink alcohol in Mysore? Everywhere!
Unlike some other places we are likely to visit in India, there is no problem grabbing a beer in Mysore. They have some of the most liberal licensing laws in all of India so there are plenty of bars selling cold beers, brandy or whisky and a free chat with the locals. All these places offer carry-out facilities, just ask the price first somebody tried to sell us a large bottle of brandy for 500 rupees, it had a MRP (maximum retail price) price marked at under 200 rupees, needless to say they lost the sale.
This isn’t the only legal high you’ll be offered here. Apparently, there are plenty of ‘coffee shops’ offering cannabis to those interested. Touts who approach will offer you the opportunity of enjoying this herbal high, legally according to them, I don’t think these places are the most reputable establishments judging by the guys selling the services so we declined.
Addicts have more than coffee to choose from.
On the topic of highs, it’s interesting to see that betel nut chewing, and spitting, is alive and well here. Nowhere near the epidemic usage we witnessed travelling in Myanmar though. If you don’t fancy any of these, and are just opting for the traditional high of a cup of coffee, you could try a sweet version (minus the betel nut) to chew on. I can highly recommend this for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Pharmaceuticals are abundant in India with a chemist on every corner, for pill-poppers everywhere this is heaven. You can purchase any drug imaginable without a prescription. I’ve got myself some great painkillers that will quickly dispense any hangover from drinking cheap Indian booze.
Getting Around Mysore
Auto-rickshaw and private taxis are in plentiful supply, which you can arrange through your hotel or on the street if you prefer.A private taxi covering all the main sites, based on your own bespoke plan, for an entire day and evening would cost around 1300 Rupees.
A rickshaw for a couple of hours around the city cost us 300 rupees, although we went slightly out of town to our final destination of the cinema. The local buses are frequent and cheap if you want to go to some of the sights but it is time consuming, depending on what you want to do and see in Mysore, the locals are more than happy to help you get to the right stop and on the right bus.
Mysore Tour Option Cost
You can book on an all day tour of the area for 200 rupees, this is incredibly cheap as the tour starts at 8.30am and finishes at around 8pm. You will probably be the only foreigner on the bus, as we were, as this tour is particularly popular with tourists from India as it has a big emphasis on visiting the many temples in the area.
The Mysore tour does cover the most popular tourist sites, but it is quite quick and should you require more time you may do it yourself in a taxi. This trip doesn’t include entrance fees to the sights which cost us an additional 420 rupees each as some of the sites attract a premium for foreign visitors, such as going inside the palace. We took this tour with GreenLine tour operator and booked through our hotel, which we thought, was excellent value despite our tour guide (who spoke English) having to phone Indian tourists on regular delays as they failed to make it back to the bus at the allotted time.
Things to do with Children (or Big Kids)
Railway Museum – we’re real rail enthusiasts so took a rickshaw to the railway museum for 40 rupees. The entrance fee was 5 rupees plus an additional 10 rupees for a camera, which sort of reflects the quality of what is there. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed, in fact you may well be impressed. There is a small selection of rail carriages and train engines, which are interesting and you can jump inside and have a look around and imagine life in this bygone era. You can’t fail to be impressed by the steam locomotive engine or the Raj’s dining car and there is a small gallery containing rail memorabilia.
Mysore Zoo is a popular attraction for families, it is closed on Tuesday. We don’t know what the animal welfare conditions are so you should research this if planning a visit. A children friendly alternative is Mysore Natural History Museum, its a five minute ride from the zoo. It is full of stuffed animals, not to everybody’s taste, and has good interpretation for children. Not one of our must see recommendations, but if you have kids and have plenty of spare time then it is something you may want to see.
Boating – You can head off to a lake in the city and hire a boat, at the Karanji Kere lake.
Wildlife and Nature
One of the first things we first spotted on arriving in Mysore was the huge Pelicans fishing on the Karanji lake. There is plenty to keep nature lovers occupied, especially those who enjoy a bit of twitching. The Kukkarahalli lake is easily accessible from town and is a haven for migratory birds on their way across the world. For the more adventurous most hotels offer wildlife excursion tours, but we’d recently had the pleasure of this on our visit to Kerala.
Festivals in Mysore
One of the main festivals here is the Dasara Festival in Mysuru, which sees ceremonies and events take place over 9 days. On day 10, the city is transformed into a colourful hive of activity as a fantastic procession takes place on the final day culminating the festivities. It’s usually in October or November depending on the year. We missed it by a couple of weeks!
All in all Mysore has been a great destination, there is lots to see and do and the general feel of the city and its people will give a traditional yet gentle introduction to Indian city life.